The pit bull breed can trace its roots back to Ireland and England during the early 1800s. The breed was the result of Old English Terriers and Old English Bulldogs being crossbred. The original purpose for this breeding mixture was farming. Individuals with land to work used the dog’s tenacity and strength, which many consider unrivaled by other dog breeds, to work land alongside farmers. Duties for the pitbull in these early days consisted of herding cattle and hogs.
Unfortunately, fans of popular bloodsports at the time would often use that same tenacity and strength for darker purposes. Many owners would breed the dogs, with their combination of gameness (terrier) and power (bulldog), to participate in pit matches and fighting rings. Examples of early bloodsports the pitbull competed in range from bull and bear baiting to dog fighting rings.
During many of these bloodsports, the pit bulls were often enclosed in a pit with other animals to do battle. At one point in time, pit bulls were even used in activities such as rat baiting. The dog would be placed in a pit and left to do battle with hoards of rats. These cruel games eventually gave rise to the breed’s popular name. Given their role in the pits, the breed picked up the colloquial name pitbull.
When Britain began enacting animal welfare laws during the 1830s, many of these popular bloodsports were outlawed and new forms of illegal games were created to satisfy the bloodlust of fans of the game. It was at this juncture in history that pit bulls were first forced into bloody battles against one another in dogfighting rings.
As the pit bull was introduced in the United States during the 1870s, it quickly became a popular breed. In the US the breed took on the official name of American Pitbull Terrier. Today, the breed technically has two different names. The American Kennel Club officially recognizes the breed as the American Staffordshire Terrier. Conversely, the United Kennel Club refers to the dog as American Pitbull Terrier.